Mobile innovations came in all sizes at CES 2014. A huge 12.2-inch Android tablet wowed us with its ability to run four apps at once on screen, and a compact smartphone debuted with specs just as beefy as any phablet flagship. Then there are breakthroughs we never saw coming, including a way to transmit data via LED light, a 192-core mobile chip and an iPhone case that doubles your storage and battery life. After meeting with dozens of companies and going hands-on with lots of solid contenders, these are the mobile products and technologies that are blazing the trail for others to follow.
Best Laptop: MSI Concept Gaming Notebook
MSI came out of left field at CES 2014 with a concept notebook that's small in size but big on potential. Set to launch sometime this year, the concept gaming notebook sports a sexy muscle car design that's sure to turn heads. MSI claims that the 15-inch notebook will be the lightest in the world, weighing a bit more than 3 pounds. For those scoring at home, that's nuts, as it's about the same weight as the 13-inch MacBook Air. So what about heat? Cool air gets sucked in through the top vent, while hot air gets blown out the sides and back. Add in a 3K display (2880 x 1620 pixels) and a pair of mSATA drives, and you've got a tantalizing peek into the future of PC gaming.
Best Large Tablet: Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2
The Galaxy Note Pro 12 is the ultimate multitasking tablet. Swipe in from the right side of the screen, and you'll enjoy Samsung's Multi Window feature on steroids. For the first time on an Android device, you can run up to four apps at once -- all on a gorgeous 12-inch, 2560 x 1600-pixel screen. Or you can run two instances of the same app side by side. We also like the new Magazine UX, which has a Flipboard-style presentation but goes way beyond news with dedicated screens for Personal, Work, Social and Media. Speaking of work, this productivity-minded slate has you covered with an S Pen for taking notes, a full office suite and remote access software. There's even a laptop-style touch keyboard.
Best Small Tablet: Lenovo ThinkPad 8
Designed for work but just as great for play, Lenovo's ThinkPad 8 stands above the 8-inch Windows tablet crowd with a sharp 8.3-inch, 1920 x 1200-pixel screen, a classy aluminum chassis with elegant ThinkPad aesthetics and a high-res 8-MP rear camera. Unlike its competitors, the ThinkPad 8 uses Intel's fastest Atom Bay Trail processor, the quad-core, 2.4-GHz Z3770. This CPU is fast enough to view 4K videos, crunch complex spreadsheets or play some games. Add in an optional QuickShot cover that opens the camera app when you uncover the lens and you have a business tablet that consumers will love as much as IT departments.
Best Hybrid: ASUS Transformer Book Duet
It doesn't get more versatile than this. The ASUS Transformer Book Duet doesn't just double as a 13-inch laptop and a tablet. This detachable runs both Windows 8.1 and Android. With the push of a button, the Duet switches from OS to the other in about 4 seconds. Having this kind of choice gives shoppers the best of both worlds: the ability to get real work done in Windows and then kick back in Android mode for enjoying more apps and games on the full HD IPS screen. The starting $599 configuration has a Core i3 processor, but you can step all the way up a Core i7 CPU, 256GB of solid state storage in the tablet and an extra 1TB of space in the keyboard dock.
Best Smartphone: Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
Why should phablets have all the fun and high-end specs? Sony is turning that line of thinking on its ear with the 4.3-inch Xperia Z1 Compact. Instead of a mid-range processor, the tech giant loaded its mini-smartphone with a fast Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 CPU and 2GB of RAM, allowing this handset to hang with the most powerful big-screen devices. Around back, the Z1 Compact gets the same powerful 20.7-megapixel shooter as the one found on Sony's 5-inch Xperia Z1s. And while the 1280 x 720 pixel display isn't the sharpest, Sony's "Triluminous" display technology produced impressively bright colors during our hands-on. The water-resistant design, of the Z1 Compact, which allows it to stay underwater for 30 minutes, is an awesome bonus.
Best Car Tech: Hyundai Blue Link
Hyundai's 2015 Genesis is one sexy and powerful luxury sedan, but it's not the design or engine that has us excited. This vehicle is the first to launch with Hyundai's second-generation Blue Link infotainment system and the Genesis Intelligent Assistant app, which lets you control the vehicle via your iOS or Android device. What's more, Hyundai has developed a Genesis Intelligent Assistant app that works with Google Glass, so you can do everything from start and turn off your car, lock and unlock the doors and preheat or cool the interior from the headset. Inside, the Genesis' Blue Link gets access to Google’s point-of-interest search, so you can not only look up where a business is located, but find out its hours of operation and call it with your connected smartphone.
Best Bluetooth Speaker: Fugoo Tough Bluetooth Speaker
These days there are more Bluetooth speakers on the market than Kanye West rants. But none are as durable, customizable or versatile as the Fugoo Tough Bluetooth speaker. The $229 device is water, dust and shockproof. Oh, and did we mention the rich, 360-degree audio delivered by the pair of neodymium tweeters, aluminum cones and passive bass radiators? The speaker also comes with several swappable custom skins ($39) in case you get bored with your speaker’s appearance. The Fugoo Tough comes with a wearable Bluetooth remote ($49), and there are several optional available mounts ($39) for bikes and backpacks.
Best Headphones: Monster DNA Pro Over Ear Wireless
Monster has cut the cord. The company’s new Monster DNA Pro keep the distinctive triangular shape of the original DNA's, but adds advanced Bluetooth technology to deliver near lossless audio on mobile devices. The resulting audio is loud, crisp and clear. The headphones also have noise-cancellation when the included audio cables are used, allowing for great-sounding tunes in nearly any environment.
Best Accessory: Mophie Space Pack
The market is littered with iPhone charging cases, but only one of them comes with extra storage. The Mophie Space Pack adds up to 32GB of memory to your iPhone 5 or 5s, allowing you to carry tons of music, photos, videos and documents without fear of maxing out. The Space Pack syncs to your PC like an external hard drive and is managed through Mophie's free Space app, which automatically filters your files by type and sports AirDrop and AirPlay compatibility. Oh, and in case you forgot, this shell's battery will power your iPhone on the go. Mophie's innovative accessory starts at $149, but the sheer versatility of the Space Pack makes the premium well worth it.
Best Enabling Technology: Wysips Connect
Your next hotspot could be a light bulb. The Wysips Connect smartphone sensor reads data transmitted from regular LED lights while using the same rays to charge itself. In the near future, building owners will install this new LiFi technology into your overhead fixtures and use it to transmit location data based on your position. Imagine using your smartphone to get step-by-step directions to the right booth in a giant convention center or holding your handset under a light at the supermarket to get more information about a product. Wysips Connect could even enable a network connection that's more secure than Wi-Fi because hackers can't intercept the signal unless they're standing under the same light.
Best Startup: FINSix
Founded by three MIT students who wanted to commercialize a unique power technology they developed in grad school, FINSix broke new ground at CES 2014 by releasing the smallest laptop A/C adapter ever made. At 0.1 pound in weight and 2.4 cubic inches in size, the FINSix 65-watt adapter is a third to a quarter of the size of a standard laptop power brick, lightening your load when you hit the road.
Best of Show: Nvidia Tegra K1
Bringing desktop-level performance to mobile, Nvidia's new Tegra K1 processor houses 192 graphics cores. With that kind of architecture, the chip promises 3x the performance of Apple’s A7 chip, enough speed to support Unreal Engine 4, the leading graphics engine for PC and console games. As a result, the Tegra K1 could usher in a new era of Android gaming where the leading publishers release their AAA titles to Google's open source OS at the same time as Windows and Xbox -- and ahead of iOS.